Eighth Circuit upholds Sorenson prison sentence for lying about taking money for political endorsements

By: Rox Laird on December 13th, 2017

Former Iowa State Sen. Kent Sorenson’s 15-month sentence in federal prison for lying about taking payments for political endorsements was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis Tuesday.

Federal prosecutors had recommended probation, but U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt of Des Moines said Sorenson should do time in prison because accepting “dollars for political favors . . . is the antithesis of civic virtue.”

Sorenson appealed the sentence to the Court of Appeals, but a panel composed of Eighth Circuit Judges James Loken, Raymond Gruender and Duane Benton upheld the sentence in a four-page per curiam ruling.

Sorenson was serving in the Iowa Senate in 2012 when he switched his presidential primary endorsement from Michele Bachmann to Ron Paul a matter of days ahead of the Iowa caucuses. He had been paid a total of $132,915.47 from the Bachmann and Paul campaigns, none of which was reported to the Federal Election Commission (FEC), and he lied about the payments in a sworn deposition.

Sorenson pleaded guilty to “willfully causing false expenditure reports to the FEC” and “falsifying records in contemplation of or relation to a federal investigation intending to obstruct justice.”

Based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, that translated into a sentence of 24 to 30 months, but Pratt settled on 15 months, which was still harsher than the government prosecutors’ recommendation of two years’ probation and fines.

Pratt explained his reasoning in a January in a 25-page sentencing memorandum.

“The offending conduct in this case — the sale of one’s political influence as an elected official and proactive concealment of the transactions from the public and from regulators — can only be described in one way: corruption,” Pratt wrote.

“When it comes to political corruption, the community — historically and presently — requires that real, tangible, and severe consequences meet those who gain a position of public trust and then abuse that trust for personal gain,” he wrote.  “Unless that traditional principle is honored, political corruption will slowly corrode the foundations of our democracy until it collapses under its own weight.”

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On Brief is devoted to appellate litigation, with a focus on the Iowa Supreme Court, the Iowa Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
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